This is a piece I wrote in February of 2015. With help from some friends I rewrote a few parts, gave it some polish and found it a name. It was originally published in Volume 9. No. 2 of Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. I hope you enjoy.
Two cars were parked side by side in the drive of a quaint off-white house in a neighborhood lined by young oak trees. A flagstone walk led to a front door, still ajar, painted a welcoming shade of red. Over the threshold a single ordered pair of shoes lay on a mat beside the door. Droplets from the faucet plinked into the metal bowl of the kitchen sink, each one ringing out with a hollow ping. Curtains at the windows fluttered in a lazy dance upon the breeze, streetlights blinking into existence as the evening wore on. A crème brûlée toasted to a flawless burnt orange rested on a serving dish beside the sink. Scattered across a dining room table were the remnants of place settings for two, silverware and ornamental porcelain. The shards of a bottle along the floor, wine splashed across the wall, staining the rug below a deep blood red. Soothing piano notes were floating out from the speakers of an old fashioned record player spinning in the sitting room corner. The last coals of a fire smoldered in the fireplace. Fragments of a vase lay on the floor beside an accent table in the hallway, trampled roses strewn about, broken stems and crushed petals. The frame of a portrait was split having been jarred from the wall, cracks spidering through the glass pane. Orange and lavender scents mixed with the roses in the air in the doorway into a spacious bedroom. On a nightstand a square box wrapped in cream-colored paper adorned with pale blue silk ribbon lay abandoned. The tan covers and pillows on an ornate oak bed were still in perfect place, folded and tucked just so. A burgundy stain spread over the bedding, dripping onto the carpet beneath the bed. From the adjoined bathroom steam billowed into the air, the wall mirror fogged over, the shower still running. The steam was blown away by the evening breeze from the open bedroom window. Streaks of red swirled around and into the drain of the shower.
This year is the first year I am a true veteran on Veteran’s Day. My tenure on active duty with the US Navy ended in December of 2013.
In the military those who choose not to reenlist are said to be “getting out” or have “gotten out.” Often this takes the form of “Are you getting out or are you staying in?” being asked by all manner of people: career advisers, civilian friends and coworkers and fellow service members.
“Getting out” is a term I have been thinking about this past week and I have decided I do not like the phrase. It has a negative connotation about military service. Is active duty service something someone who hasn’t done it can 100% relate to? No. It is an “in or out” club. However, I do not think choosing to leave active duty should be referred to “getting out.”
When you read or hear about people who grow up in rough circumstances they often talk about how they “got away from it all” or “they got out”. People also “get out of prison” after their time has been served. Military service is not the same. While you are under contract and sign most of your life away to the service it should not be seen as an escape that you are leaving. Military service is a not a prison. It may feel like that at times, but it is an honor to serve and choosing to leave active duty service is not an escape from poor circumstances.
From now on I will try my best to not say “I got out” when referring to my active duty service. It was just my time to move on to the next chapter in my life. I am thankful for the opportunities the US Navy presented me and without them I would not be who I am or where I am today.
So thank a veteran. Not the generic “Thank you for your service.” Please don’t say that. That phrase has become so ingrained in the American psyche that it’s no different from hello. It has lost meaning. Also don’t just throw up a “Shout out to all my veterans! XOXO” on Facebook and call it good. Find someone you know and give a personal thank you. Less than 1% of all Americans volunteer to serve, but I am sure you know someone who made that choice.
Give a meaningful thank you. Think about why you are thanking a veteran and then tell them that. They hear “Thank you for your service”, and not just on Veteran’s Day, more times than you could imagine. Put some meaning behind your words.
I am proud to call many of those I served with over the years, many of whom are still standing the watch on active duty, my friends. It was a pleasure to serve alongside each and every one of you.
I am beyond thankful for the support from my family and friends, some of whom have now chosen to join active service as well and especially my sister who signed on the line alongside me. While you may thank us for our service, let us thank all of you for your support. The men and women volunteering to serve in the greatest fighting force on the planet could not do it without your love and support. Thank you.
Anyone who has spent any decent amount of time around me is aware of my habit of looking everything up. American society is obsessed with being as anti-social as possible in public thanks to the advent of smart phones. Most of these people are perusing their Facebook newsfeed, checking Pinterest or reading the latest whatever it is they publish on “news sites” like BuzzFeed. Probably some vague list of “uncommon” things people do.
I happen to be the person on a smart phone that probably has Google or wikipedia open. I could be reading about who wrote the script for some movie, or what song writer wrote a particular country song or who did what when and how they did it and probably the name of their dog too.
I look up everything.
This came up today because a few days ago I sent a picture of tattoo (taken from Pinterest, of course) to a friend of mine to illustrate a certain style I liked. Now, I didn’t actually go to Pinterest, it came up in Google when looking for watercolor negative space tattoos. I never looked more into where it came from. I just thought it was neat. End of story.
Now today I pulled up YouTube to listen to the Knife Party remix of Swedish House Mafia’s Save The World. Scrolling down through the comments (not a good idea on YouTube, most days) I noticed that someone’s user photo was a near identical version of that circle in red.
Now I was curious. No way was that a coincidence.
Out comes the Google-fu. I tried searching for “painted circle logo” but that didn’t come up with much. Instead I went back to the source and punched in “painted circle tattoo” and sure enough dozens of photos of the same brushed circle came up. The fourth image was that circle with ENSO written in the middle and the article was titled Circle of Zen – Explaining the Ensō. I didn’t pay much attention to either of these, with “circle of zen” having caught my attention already.
Instead of following the image (I never tend to do that, not sure why that is) next came up Googling “circle of zen” to see what I could find. I was not disappointed as the first entry was Wikipedia’s entry for Ensō. A quick perusal of the article reveals the ensō originates from Zen Buddhism and it is a hand-drawn circle, in one or two brushstrokes, to
“express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create”.
And “the ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). It is characterised by a minimalism born of Japanese aesthetics”.
That’s something new I didn’t know.
In hindsight had I followed the original tattoo, from Russell Van Schaick Tattoos, I would have seen he marked the tumblr/instagram photo with #zen #zencircle and #ensotattoo. But oh well.
All of this stemmed off of a random picture from YouTube. Ever curious.
I have never been one to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I did as a kid in grade school, exchanging Valentines with classmates, but as I grew up I my desire dwindled. As my cynicism grew along came a dislike for such a “fake” holiday, one driven my Hallmark and florists alike.
It is a fake holiday.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be special. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a day to celebrate a loved one, an enduring relationship or send someone an unexpected gift.
No you don’t need a holiday to celebrate love. You don’t need to block out a day to go out for a fancy dinner, to spend money on gifts and flowers or create an extravagant display of your affection. You don’t need a holiday to tell someone how much they mean to you.
You don’t need a holiday to say “I love you.”
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a holiday to celebrate love. Yes, Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday driven by huge expectations and the one emotion that motivates everyone. But what holiday isn’t commercial in today’s society? Holiday decorations appear on shelves months before hand. Billions of dollars are spent in preparation for a single day.
Instead of saying “Valentine’s is stupid” why not just go with it? I’m not saying you have to embrace it. I’m not saying you even have to celebrate it. Just don’t ruin it for anyone else.
The one thing most people want out of life is to be happy. If celebrating Valentine’s makes someone happy, who are you to ruin that for them? I’ve said it before: don’t be the asshole in someone else’s story. Nobody likes those characters. Most of them could do with a good punch in the nose.
Don’t feel like you have to do something for Valentine’s Day because “it’s expected of you.” If it’s expected of you because the calendar says so then you should take a serious look at whatever relationship you’re trying to cultivate. I’m not saying you shouldn’t celebrate because it’s there, but you shouldn’t just because it’s on a calendar. Celebrating Valentine’s Day as a couple should just that, a decision made as a couple. Communication is key in anything. If you don’t talk about what you expect of Valentine’s Day then don’t be surprised by what you may or may not receive.
Another note about expectations. Valentine’s Day is not a woman’s holiday. It is a celebration of love. If you, as a woman, are expecting your man, or any man for that matter, to go the extra mile for you then you had better be prepared to reciprocate in kind. It’s not about “It’s Valentine’s Day so he had better get me something special.” That’s not love. That’s being self centered.
Whether you celebrate it or not is up to you. How you celebrate is up to you. My sister and her husband don’t buy gifts for Valentine’s Day. Instead they donate to causes in each other’s name.
Personally I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day that often. It depends on the circumstances.
That doesn’t stop me from taking advantage of it to celebrate someone either.
(Or from buying discount Sweet Tart Hearts)
I often go through what I call “cycles” in listening to music. Anyone who gets to know me or is around me for any decent amount of time find themselves exposed to my broad taste in music. There are certain things I will say flat out that I do not like, the most prominent being screamo in metal/punk. Even then I do find exceptions for things I dislike. I’m willing to give most anything a try.
Unless you share my musical sensibilities, being around me will probably diminish your appreciation for what I like. This is because I have a tendency become stuck in loops. If I find a song or, more often, an artist I love I will listen non-stop, all the time. So you may go somewhere with me and hear a particular band on my iPod. You may ask to turn it up, since I try to be considerate and turn the audio down in cars when other people are riding with me.
Now a few weeks go by and we’re off somewhere again, out to eat or maybe to a movie. Chances are good the same band is playing again. It’s what I do.
I love listening to music, to the point where the only tattoo I have is dedicated to music and reads: “Music is what emotion sounds like.” which is something I 100% believe. And when I love a band I want to hear it all the time. I understand not everyone is like this but it’s the way I am wired.
Those same bands/artists will play in my car, around the home, at work, often while running (unless it is not “running music” but even then, sometimes). Everywhere I go.
Constant exposure to an artist will sometimes ruin them for someone. Not for me. I love hearing the same songs over and over again because I get to know every facet. There was a game of sorts on iPods several years ago where it would play random snippets of songs from your music and you had to pick what song it was. I don’t think I ever missed one. Granted I never played with it much, I was listening to music instead.
A singular artist or album will receive constant play until I find someone new or on a whim decide to play something else. 90% of the time “something else” is a return to favorite artists, which is dominated by Muse. On many occasions listening to them will last for weeks, often months: Twenty One Pilots, a band I had never heard of, opened for Fall Out Boy in the beginning of September. I listened to them for two months straight.
That’s not even close to the longest cycle I’ve been caught in. When My Chemical Romance released their final album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, in November 2010 I believe I listened to that album for eight months. That’s not even my favorite album by them.
More examples could follow but I think you get the idea. Nor do I want it to change. I love my musical loops, otherwise I wouldn’t listen to music the way I do.
I am not inconsiderate and I do recognize that this would drive many people crazy. I do my best to change it up when other people are with me, especially for long drives. The moment everyone else has left the car chances are high my iPod will return to what was playing before.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Around the world today is known as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day and marks the 95th anniversary of the end of World War I. In the United States it was celebrated as Armistice Day until Congress approved a change to Veteran’s Day in 1954, in recognition of all US military veterans.
The other US holiday in recognition of military service is Memorial Day. While both serve to recognize military service, there is a distinct difference. Veteran’s Day honors all US veterans while Memorial Day is in honor of those who have laid down their life while in service to our nation.
For the past six years I have served as active duty in the United States Navy. During that time I have celebrated five Veteran’s Days, all of which were marked by an outpouring of thanks from relatives and friends and associates. Almost everything said on Veteran’s Day boils down to one phrase.
“Thank you for your service.”
Many people may never say this again until Memorial Day or 4th of July comes around. Some people say it every day. I cannot speak for everyone who has served or is serving now but I have heard this statement far more often than just on federal holidays. More often than not it is police officers and TSA agents (many of whom are veterans themselves) who thank me for my service.
For six years I have never had a good answer. Usually it is an awkward smile, or a mumbled reply that doesn’t make any sense. I have never known how to answer because nothing felt right.
I am scheduled to leave active duty December 16th, 2013. As such I have been giving a lot of thought to life after the military, life as a veteran. It has been a time for reflection on the past six years as well, looking back on who I was then and who I am now and everything in between.
During that reflection I have found the answer that eluded me during my time in service. I cannot speak for everyone but I believe I can speak for most: Thank you for your support.
While I may not be on a ship for months at a time, stationed halfway around the globe, or on the ground in Afghanistan, life in the military is fundamentally different than life as a civilian, even if it’s someone working at a desk on a base somewhere. Without the support of family, friends and sometimes the kindness of complete strangers, life in the US armed forces would be much more difficult, especially for those at sea, far from home or boots on the ground in a foreign land. The same can be said of military spouses and families, theirs is a unique life as well.
So I would like to say it again, on behalf of all service members, past and present.
Thank you for your support. It means everything.
Everything I write here is based off my own observations and is by no means indicative of trends or facts. These are occurrences I have noticed during my own time in school and beyond.
I come from a small town in New Hampshire, so small in fact that the local public high school is a joint school between my town and the next town over. Even then the high school was small. My graduating class was considered “large” for the school with somewhere around 120 students. No school, despite the most rigid discipline and professional environments, is not free of bullying. I believe this occurs far less often in small schools by virtue of the fact that smaller schools tend to have less well defined social groups due to their size not supporting them.
In my senior year I wrote an article for our school paper making the argument that a “popular” clique of students couldn’t exist in my high school, not in the way portrayed by teen movies and television shows anyways. This wasn’t well taken by those who believed they belonged to such a group. My article was based around the fact by definition popular means well liked or admired by many people. I stated that since my high school was so small no one could be far and away “the most popular” people in the school since everyone knew everyone. Since graduating the fact that I have met plenty of people who didn’t know almost in their high school, let alone their own class, is mind boggling to me. It’s an alien experience.
On the same token I think the small size prevents bullying on such a large scale. Yes people will always be bullied, but in my school I think it was far less rampant than headlines present. This was for the same reason popular cliques weren’t as dominant, everyone knew everyone. Very few people were “outcasts” from the school body.
One of the most common ways someone can be mocked and ridiculed in high school has to do with body image. Often someone who is overweight and “strange” or “weird” will be the subject of bullying, or at least some form of torment or the butt of jokes. Others who are overweight but have a bubbly, friendly personality or can make people laugh with their jokes and antics are able to overcome the stigma often associated with their weight.
I was never teased in any form of school, from kindergarten to high school. People may have thought I was odd because I’m a huge nerd (which is the in thing these days it seems) but even then I wasn’t mocked or bullied. I don’t have a weight problem either. For all my life I have been thin, but never underweight. I am not anorexic nor do I have some other eating disorder. The fact of the matter is I am an active person despite being a great fan of indoor activities, I eat only when I am hungry without having the compulsion to “clean my plate”. The last and largest contributor to my weight is my high metabolism that borders on ridiculous.
All my life I have never thought anything of myself being skinny. My brothers are very much the same way and many of my friends growing up were just as thin if not skinnier than I was. I joined the United States Navy in December of 2007, when I was eighteen. Twice a year the Navy conducts their Physical Fitness Assessment, which consists of two parts: the Physical Readiness Test (PRT), meaning the push-ups, sit-ups running etc, and the Body Composition Assessment (BCA) which is a measurement of body weight vs height and body fat percentage. I have never once come close to failing the BCA, which I consider a good thing. But the nature of the BCA makes my actual weight, not just the perception of it, public knowledge.
Now almost six years later, and still thin as ever, I have noticed that on an almost weekly basis comments are made about my weight. This is probably something to do with the fact that I am 24 years old but still weigh almost the same I did my freshman year of high school. I never noticed it until it started becoming a common discussion, and now is becoming something of a joke within my command. When I was younger I probably would have snapped on someone by now, since I had a severe temper when growing up, because I often am subjected to comments along the lines of: “Eat something.” or “You need some bacon.” (I won’t argue the bacon part, since it’s delicious) or offers of cake and other “fattening” foods.
I tend to laugh these comments off, but at the end of the day they’re just as annoying as mocking someone for being overweight or wear glasses or because they’re clumsy or have their less than stellar common sense moments. Not once did I ever think I would become the subject of someone’s ridicule regarding my weight but here I am, ten years removed from “prime bullying years” and the polar opposite of the most common trigger for bullying and still being mocked over something trivial.
Since I am severe cynic (I was told in my high school yearbook not to give up on the human race) I tend to just attribute this to humanity being assholes. But sometimes it’s worth a shot to remind people that everyone else is the star of their own story. All those people in the subway, in their cars, on the job site or in their cubicles at work are the leading men and women in their own lives. As a bully, or someone making jokes at someone else’s expense, you become an antagonist in their story. It takes a compelling antagonist to be well liked.
Don’t become the antagonist in someone else’s story over something petty.
The phrase guilty pleasure is construed to mean something you find enjoyable but you should embarrassed to admit you enjoy. When you are fond of a musician, television show, movie etc that by public standards is “embarrassing” you are said to have a guilty pleasure. If you tell your friends you love something and they laugh at you, you just admitted to having a guilty pleasure.
Guilty pleasures are a myth.
You should never be embarrassed about enjoying any form of media or activity. Does that catchy new pop song make you feel happy? How about that sappy soap opera on television? Maybe you love reading steamy romance novels because they let your mind wander. If these activities or interests make your life happier, why should you be embarrassed to admit to enjoying them?
Public pressure to conform in interests and activity is what generates this need to feel self-conscious about ones interests. Most of the time they are things that do not conform to gender role perceptions: a guy enjoying Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, or a woman who enjoys heavy metal despite working in the fashion industry. Both of those examples (read: stereotypes) exude the classic aura of a guilty pleasures.
When someone admits that something is a guilty pleasure for them they are doing two things.
One, they are admitting to how they allow public pressure to shape their view of normalcy. That all depends on what they find to be a guilty pleasure since everyone may find interests embarrassing that someone else may find normal. A lot of that has to do with their environment. The guy who enjoys Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift might not find it embarrassing if he is raising daughters who listen to them on repeat. Another guy may be embarrassed to admit to jamming to Taylor Swift because his gym buddies would mock him and question his “manliness”.
Two, they are providing a window into what their true interests are. If someone admits to enjoying something as a guilty pleasure chances are that is among their most enjoyable activities. The open expression of those interests is being suppressed by the pressure to conform to normalcy. Don’t allow it, engage someone regarding their guilty pleasures. Maybe you share interests and will make good friends, or maybe your friendship will be stronger if you’re already friends.
I’m not advocating dumping your friends because they think your love affair with campy 80s cartoons is silly. Instead try to make new friends based on your common interests, or find an outlet where you can communicate and relate with other people who share your view. Reddit is a great place for this, no matter how unknown or out there your interest is there is a subreddit for it.
Do not admit to guilty pleasures, instead admit to the things you enjoy and make your life happier.
I had my last orthodontic appointment two days ago which was just to make sure the retainer was doing what it’s supposed to do. I also got my last set of photographs from my orthodontic office, so you can compare before and after. The braces are still on in those photos but they were taken the day the braces came off. My gums were also inflamed, they have since recovered.
Also general photos, before and after.
The change to my jaw is prominent, even to me, when you look at those two side by side.
It’s been a long four years but my jaw doesn’t pop out of place anymore, nor do my teeth cut into my gums and they align properly without any gaps. Despite everything in the end it was 100% worth it.